Since the mid-sixties the work of Gilberto Zorio (Andorno Micca, Biella, 1944) has been characterized by energy, alchemy, the manifestation of process and a concern with the forms potentially inherent in materials, making him one of the leading exponents of Arte Povera.
Attracted by chemical and physical processes, Zorio conducts experiments based on making visible complex transformations of matter, creating works that are in constant action and change, as if endowed with their own form and vital energy. Chemical elements such as sulfur, cobalt and phosphorus are placed in relation to structures of asbestos or iron, which represent stability against the instability of the processes triggered by the artist, but also a dialogue, at times conflicting, between natural materials and products of industrial modernity. Examples are Pelli con resistenza (“Skins with Resistance”, 1968), animal skins in contact with electric heaters that make palpable the state of tension to which the work is subjected; or works made with wax, a material extremely sensitive to heat and cold and which can therefore take many forms in the exhibition space.
The combination of substances of different origin leads to the unfolding of a primary energy that enhances the intrinsic properties of the materials and at the same time mirrors the actions and reactions that govern the cosmos, allowing the archaic and technological to meet. The artist thus becomes the activator of a process whose effects can be controlled only in part, while it is time that shapes the work, giving it a form that changes continually, subjecting it to chemical, physical and atmospheric agents.
“It involves continuous waiting,” relates Zorio. “I set the machinery in motion. Then the camera follows its path. Anything can happen. A great chemist from Turin told me one day that sometimes special reactions can occur, with a probability of one in a million: so one is always waiting, in a state of constant excitation.” The artist’s inquiry into matter is linked to the symbolic component, embodied in some constant elements of his work, such as the five-pointed star, the canoe, the javelin, forms which acquire the value of archetypes and at the same time become images of energy, relating to an idea of tension and vitality.
Il fuoco è passato (“The Fire is Past”, 1968) embodies many features of Zorio’s poetic: the importance of process, instability, tension between different materials, the use of fire as a primary element. Presented at the exhibition Arte Povera più azioni povere in 1968, the work shares with the Amalfi experience as a whole a concern with the chance and performative element capable of creating a field of energy in which the viewer is inevitably involved. “I aspire to an art that is not fixed in form but open to the unexpected, that acts,” states the artist.
A slab of Eternit (now replaced with a sheet devoid of asbestos), joining the two ends of a piece of wire netting arranged in a circle, bears the traces of a process of combustion: the artist moved all around the fence, in complete darkness, using a blowtorch as the only source of light and leaving a sign of his passing. The minimal form of the support creates a contrast with the marks left by the fire, an expression of living energy, not yet consumed. The randomness of the marks obtained responds to the need to allow the material to speak for itself: it draws the form and the final image, the result of a process of transformation that chronicles the metamorphosis to which the work has been submitted.